FOR DAYS, Roger Langridge wrote, he was boiling with rage over the United Kingdom’s “stupid, stupid referendum result.” But then someone wrote to ask him: “Why do you hate your countrymen?” And so the New Zealand-born artist, who lives in Britain, decided to respond not with hate, but love.
Yet what could an ordinary, loving U.K. resident do? “Watch out for your friends, your neighbours, your loved ones if they’re not English or white,” wrote Langridge, the acclaimed writer-illustrator (“Fred the Clown,” “Muppet Show” and “Popeye” comics), in a cartoon he created in response to last week’s Brexit vote.
“I live in multicultural London and I’m white, and I’m still terrified,” Langridge tells The Post’s Comic Riffs, “because I’m a foreigner with a foreign accent, and my wife and kids are French, and I keep hearing how even British-born people who don’t fit certain preconceived notions of Britishness are being openly harassed in shops and on buses and told to ‘go back where you came from,’ because apparently that’s okay now.”
Comic Riffs caught up with Langridge — who has been nominated for Eisner, Harvey, Reuben and Ignatz awards for his work with comics — to talk about how he views the land of his residence, in the short- and long-term, in the wake of the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union:
MICHAEL CAVNA: First off, Roger, care to share any rants on the matter?
ROGER LANGRIDGE: To tell you the truth, I avoided the news for most of [the first day] because it was really not doing anything for my mental health. Everything just makes me angrier and angrier.
But yeah! It’s all gone a bit tits-up, as we say here. All a bit 1930s Germany. … It looks like a whole lot of people thought they were voting to have everybody who wasn’t white and British repatriated, even if they were born here. The “leave” campaign didn’t quite say that, not precisely, but they sure as hell didn’t mind people assuming it.
So yeah, [I’m] sort of sitting here with gritted teeth, wondering what new parade of horrors the day’s news will bring. The racially motivated assaults, both verbal and physical, have accelerated at a sickening rate. These bastards feel emboldened, and there’s nobody prepared to tell them to stop who has any authority, because nobody has any authority right now. The Titanic is totally without a captain.
MC: Does this feel to you like a short-term spasm after the vote, or like longer labor — or anti-Labour — contractions?
RL: I don’t know, really. What it feels like to me is that these people have always been around but have kept their opinions to themselves (at least in public) because they felt it wasn’t socially acceptable anymore — which of course it wasn’t — rather than because they believed it was wrong. I suppose we’re all culpable. We’ve all got the racist relative who goes off on one after a few drinks at Christmas, and most of us go, “It’s just Uncle Jeffrey, he’s just had one too many,” instead of what we probably should have said, which is, “Uncle Jeffrey, you are a repellent human being,” as uncomfortable as that might have made watching “Doctor Who” together later on.
Things are moving so fast now; it’s so hard to judge. My gut feeling is that it’s not just a hiccup. I think there’s an ugly genie with a broken bottle afoot which will take a generation or more to get rid of.
MC: Judging by your comic: Do you see a racist “nativism” spreading through the West. Are there many genies afoot here?
RL: Well, I’m a bit concerned about some of what I’ve observed from the Trump campaign, to be sure. Marine Le Pen in France seems absolutely delighted. Yeah, I don’t think we’re an isolated case by any means.
MC: Do you think there is a British leader who will actually trigger Article 50 — or do you have hope that the Brexiting will never actually happen?
RL: Who knows right now? I think nobody actually wants to do it, but there’s huge pressure from the E.U. itself to get on with it, to the point where they’ve made it quite difficult to get out of by prohibiting any British members from participating in any talks until they do. And then there’s the specter of the civil unrest that will likely be set off domestically if they don’t pull the trigger: Can you ignore 52 percent of a vote without consequences? Especially if a proportion of those 52 percent are the same people who are already committing violence against anyone they don’t like the look of? Highly unlikely.
MC: So vitally, what is the role of an artist — whether by word or picture or other — amid [such change]? Certainly you were moved to act — react — to create something.
RL: It’s something I’m still wrestling with. For me, carrying on writing light, frothy kids’ comics as if nothing had happened wasn’t an option. It’s almost as if everybody’s going through the stages of grief right now. I suspect the talk of Article 50 never being triggered falls smack in the middle of the “denial” stage, though of course I’d like to be wrong about that. But I have seen a lot of talk on social media among cartoonists I follow about “what we can do.” We’re all trying to find something constructive to offer rather than give in to despair, which is as healthy and positive as anything I’ve seen come out of this shambles.
I suppose, through art, we can communicate things that need communicating to a much wider audience than if we didn’t have that outlet. That’s got to be worth something. To tell people who are as frightened and angry as I am that they’re not alone; I think that has value.
More than that, I’m still trying to figure out.